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Tiffin residents balk at moving for new school

TIFFIN - Rick and Mindy Smith understand that the Tiffin school district needs a new middle school to replace a pair of older classroom buildings.

They just wish the school wasn't going to be built where their house is.

“Speaking on behalf of the [school district], it's in dire need of a new middle school,” Mr. Smith said yesterday as he stood in the family room of his home on Ella Street. “We just wish they would have found another location.”

The Tiffin school board decided at a meeting Monday night to authorize construction of a middle school for grades 6 through 8 on a 15-acre site in central Tiffin between Union and Ella Streets just east of the Sandusky River. The one-story school is expected to house more than 700 students, cost about $15 million to build, and be opened in December, 2003, Superintendent Denise Callihan said.

The project will require the district to acquire and demolish 19 homes in one of Tiffin's oldest neighborhoods, and Ms. Callihan said the district “empathizes” with the residents who face being displaced.

“It was a difficult decision, because we are asking people to move,” she said. “And our goal is to treat the homeowners fairly.”

Over the next six to eight weeks the affected homeowners will be visited by appraisers, who will establish a “fair market value” for the properties, the superintendent said. The district hopes to begin site preparation by August.

The Smiths, who live in a large duplex with their four daughters on a lot that's slightly larger than an acre, say they don't think a market-value offer will allow them to find a similar property, or replace the attachment they feel to their home and the neighborhood.

“We're kind of distressed about it,” Mrs. Smith said. “We bought our own house, and it's big enough for all of us, and we have all this land. We had plans for the future, of remodeling and staying here until our kids had grown.”

Mr. Smith said the family has lived in the neighborhood 14 years and bought their home five years ago. He said he enjoys watching the neighborhood's youngsters gather in their backyard in the summertime to play baseball. “By Aug. 1, that'll be a thing of the past,” he said. “That nice community feeling was the reason we moved here.”

Maxine and Eugene Mizen, who live on Union Street, are upset at the prospect of losing the home that Mr. Mizen built over several years in the 1940s and '50s.

“I don't even sleep nights any more,” Mr. Mizen said. “It makes you mad, but what can you do? I called a real estate agent this morning. I don't want to take the first thing they give me. This ain't no mansion, but I've seen a lot of places that aren't so nice.”

Not all the affected homeowners feel so strongly. Tim and Janis Fish, who have lived on Union Street for five years, said they see the benefit of building the school in town. Plus, they own another house two streets away that they plan to move into after selling their residence to the district.

“I think it's a good location,” Mr. Fish said. “It's close to the stadium.”

Mrs. Fish agreed: “I think it makes more sense to have it here than out in the country. But I can see why some people don't want to move, especially if they're older and have lived here all their lives.”

Ms. Callihan said the school board chose the in-town site for several reasons, including its proximity to Columbian High School and Tiffin Stadium, its convenience for the bulk of the district's students, and the availability of water, sewer, and other services.

“It's close to the athletic facilities. It has all the needed utilities in place,” Ms. Callihan said. “It's not densely populated, even though it's in the center of town.”

The district had considered building a middle school on state-owned land along State Rt. 101 near the Tiffin Development Center but decided against it because of cost and transportation concerns, Ms. Callihan said.

The state-owned site would have required the district to bus all students attending the new school, leading to the purchase of eight to 10 additional school buses at a cost of up to $700,000, the superintendent said. In addition, the district would have spent an estimated $200,000 a year in extra transportation costs.

The Route 101 site also would have required the district to install access roads from the state highway and from Township Road 188 and pay for deceleration lanes on Route 101, Ms. Callihan said.

“Transportation is the issue with the out-of-town site,” she said. “In the center of town, most of the students would walk or ride their bikes.”

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